A simple raisin game could help to predict toddlers' later abilities

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Seeing how long a toddler can wait before they pick up a raisin can indicate how well they will do at school at the age of eight, a new study claims.

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Could a simple raisin test predict how well toddlers will do at school?

Psychologists at the University of Warwick said that the five-minute game played with 20-month-olds could be used for follow-up assessments to predict attention regulation and learning in children.

The raisin was placed underneath a plastic opaque cup within easy reach.

After three ‘training runs’ the children were asked to wait until they were told they could touch and eat the raisin, which was after 60 seconds.

Researchers found that babies who were born very prematurely were more likely to take the raisin before the minute was up.

Senior author Professor Dieter Wolke from the university’s Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School, said, ‘An easy, five-minute raisin game task represents a promising new tool for follow-up assessments to predict attention regulation and learning on pre-term and term born children. The results also point to potential innovative avenues to early intervention after preterm birth.’

More than 550 children taking part in the ongoing Bavarian Longituidinal Study, which started in 1985, and born between 25 to 41 weeks took part in the raisin game when they were 20 months old. The results of those born preterm 25-38 weeks were compared to those born a healthy full term between 39-41 weeks.

At around the age of eight the same children were evaluated by a team of psychologists and paediatricians using three different behaviour ratings of attention from mothers, psychologists and the research team.

Children’s reading, mathematical abilities, and writing and spelling were assessed using standardised tests.

The findings showed that the lower the children’s gestational age, the lower the toddler’s inhibitory control, and the more likely the child would have poor attention skills and low academic achievement at the age of eight.

Julia Jaekel, lead author of the study and honorary research fellow at the University of Warwick, and assistant professor of child and family studies at the University of Tenessee, Knoxville, said, ‘This finding is a key piece in the puzzle of long-term underachievement after preterm birth.’

The researchers believe that being able to identify cognitive problems early on could lead to the development of specialist, tailored education to help prevent children under-achieving at school and in later life.

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